Sunday, November 25, 2007

Get A (Second) Life

The real and cyber worlds collide.

Dutch police are claiming a first - the first real-life arrest for a virtual burglary.

Dutch police have arrested a teenager for stealing 4,000 euros worth of virtual furniture from an online, virtual-world hotel...

Habbo Hotel is, like the better-known Second Life, an online fantasy world. Once a hangout for uber-cool web designers, it's now inhabited by a mostly young teenage clientele, who socialise and play games in the lobbies, lounges and pools, and spend real money on virtual furniture, which they use to furnish their Habbo Hotel rooms.

Habbo currency can be bought via a credit card or premium telephone services, and furniture can cost up to $5 an item. Individually it's not much, but 90 per cent of the hotel's $60m annual revenue is earned by the sale of virtual goods.

$60 million in annual revenue? You've got to be kidding, right? I'm definitely in the wrong business. But apparently it's not just burglary. China, virtual property theft led to extreme, offline violence after gamer Qiu Chengwei lent a friend a valuable virtual weapon. The sword - a powerful 'dragon sabre' - is much prized in the geeky fantasy game Legends of Mir 3. When Chengwei discovered the man had sold it on eBay for £460, he found and slayed the thief using a real sword. Chengwei is currently serving a real life sentence.

I wonder if this is a harbinger of things to come. Are there any Second Lifer's (or other virtual reality gamers) out there in the Afrosphere? I'd really like to hear more about their appeal, and it would be interesting to know how many cyberworld inhabitants are adults rather than teenagers.


Francis L. Holland Blog said...

My children play Habbo. I've heard about thefts wherein they lend the keys to their virtual apartments to other children and return to find things missing.

I guess that once people pay real money for virtual property, then the virtual property has a real value. If only because they can sell it for real money and then buy real things again.

It doesn't make any sense to me, but then it doesn't make any sense to me that the same pair of jeans can be worth fifty dollars more if it has a three-cent plastic sticker on it that says "Jean Laurent." Isn't the extra value all in people's minds in that case as well. Isn't it also "virtual value"?

I argue with my kids about this all the time and they insist that a thirty-cent plastic sticker can, indeed, increase the value of a $15 .00 pair of jeans to $75.00.

Although all of the parts in a Buick and a Cadillac are identical, except the grill and the little plastic "Cadillac" insignia, yet some people will pay more for the Cadillac because of it's status, which is a mental thing, not a physical thing.

Much "value" is in our heads, and this has been extended into the virtual world of computers.

Perhaps the courts should insist that contracts made for goods that exist only in the virtual world are only enforceable in the virtual world. So, don't come crying to us when your virtual sword is stolen by a virtual dragon slayer.

DP said...

Cadillac vs. Buick. Gotta laugh at that one and you're absolutely right. Value is a matter of perception. I find it amazing that people are so willing to spend real money in a virtual world, and too kill over a virtual item? That I will never understand. I appreciate your insight.

DP said...

BTW Francis, what is the technical infrastructure like where you're at in Brazil? Is there a high degree of broadband penetration? Just curious.